“See the woman with the Virgen de Guadalupe Bolsa? Gerard whispers as he swings a pink apron around my neck. “She has carried her dead husband’s ashes around in that purse for 10 years.”

Every six weeks, I pass through the doors of my hairdresser’s salon, and there are three things I can count on: Gerard’s hair will be a different color, his prices will have gone up, and he’ll have more dirt on his clients than the CIA has on North Korea.

“Wow,” I reply, glancing back at the woman over my shoulder, “she must have truly loved him.”

“She pours his ashes into a mayonnaise jar when she gets home.”

“You mean like a salad dressing jar?”

“As in Hell-mann’s,” Gerard says, eyebrow raised. “She told me once she figures his spirit went straight to hell, so she saves his ashes in a ‘Hell-mann’s.’”

All I can say is she’s a better woman than I. After a week I’d forget what was in the jar and end up spreading it on a turkey wrap.

“The woman in the leather skirt over there,” Gerard goes on, nodding in the woman’s direction. “Her husband is having an affair with his accountant.”

“How do you know?” I whisper.

“I do the accountant’s hair,” Gerard says. “Let’s just say her mouth runs like black mascara in a rainstorm.”

About this time, a woman with a silk scarf tied around her head and hiding behind Versace sunglasses comes dashing into Gerard’s booth.

“Gerard,” she cries, “you have to help me!”

Taking a deep breath to brace herself, the woman pulls off her scarf. Her hair is as green as Bermuda grass. If she had a little flag on top of her head, Tiger Woods would pull out a putter.

“Sweet Ingrid Bergman!” Gerard gasps.

When she pulls off her sunglasses and her eyebrows are green, Gerard crams his fist into his mouth.

“I think the pool boy put too much chlorine in the pool,” she says, twisting her wedding ring round and round.

That, or the woman is mutating into a female Hulk.

“Gerard, please, fix it!” she begs, falling to her knees and clinging to his leg. “I have a fund-raiser event in two hours.”

Suddenly, the salon turns into a beauty emergency room. Gerard throws a conditioner on my head and puts me under the drier. Then he takes the Swamp Thing lady to the sink and flings her into a chair. While one stylist pats her diamond-adorned hand and another brings her Perrier, Gerard shoves her head under the water sprayer.

“Bring me 8 ounces of 50 percent solution of drabber mixed with 20 percent hydrogen peroxide!” Gerard barks at a new stylist watching from the manicure chair.

After 20 anxious minutes of mixing, washing, spraying and re-washing, the woman’s hair begins to look a normal, if not natural, color — a creamy butter with platinum highlights.

“So what’s her story?” I ask, after the woman’s condition has stabilized and I’m back in the chair.

“Oh, nothing,” Gerard says with a shrug, pulling a comb out of the disinfectant and shaking it dry.

When Gerard clams up like that, you can bet it’s good. You can also bet that if his lips were sewn together, he’d tap the gossip out in Morse code with his rattail comb or punch it out in Braille with the tip of his scissors.

“I know the chlorine in the pool was no accident,” he says, leaning in close.

“How can you be sure?” I whisper.

“I do the pool boy’s hair,” he says. “Let’s just say that she likes to tip the bottle but not the people who work for her.”

Something in the way Gerard says this, sends a chill up my roots. The truth is, I’m never sure how much I’m supposed to tip him. And, as any girl knows, the last person you want mad at you is a high-strung hairstylist with scissors.

“Gerard,” I ask nonchalantly, “do you talk about me when I’m not here?”

“Good grief, no!” he replies, clicking his scissors in the air like castanets. “There’s no good trash on you, darling. I only talk about interesting people.”

As I’m leaving, I slap a five spot on the table and call it even.

Gina Tiano is the author of Life in the Bike Lane, available at Amazon.com. Post your comment on this column at www.valleytowncrier.com

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